How a Zurich start-up was hit by Nike

SNKRZH Schuhladen in Zurich, Spahiu, Almaf Salahi, Kuvet

Proud entrepreneurs: Kuvet Salahi (left) and Almaf Spahiu outside their Snkrzh store in Zurich.Image: watson

Snkrzh sneaker store in Zurich is accused of trademark infringement – by Nike. Two young entrepreneurs from Zurich cannot risk a lawsuit. Now he faces a Herculean task to save his business.

11/15/2022, 12:17 p.m11/15/2022, 12:42 p.m

Discovering the shoe manufacturer Nike has always been the dream of two friends Kuvet Salahi and Almaf Spahia from Zurich. On the other hand, being busted by an international corporation for trademark infringement is more of a nightmare.

Her goal has always been to sell limited edition designer shoes that rarely make it to mainstream stores or sell out instantly.

For Salahi and Spahia, searching websites from around the world for valuable sneakers was a hobby. But this is for personal use. The friends then turned their passion into a profession when they started selling shoes on Instagram.

It needed a name, says Salahi: “Since it was supposed to be something to do with sneakers, we came up with the idea of ​​removing the vowels from the word and adding ZH to the end.” That’s how Snkrzh was born.

All in their sneaker store

On Instagram, they saw that countless other pages already had “Snkrs” in their name, but none ended with ZH. That’s another reason why they never imagined how much the name would blow up in their faces.

Her Instagram business has taken off. Friends dared to think bigger. Above all, they wanted to give something back to “their neighborhood” with a local shoe store. You both grew up in Zurich District 4.

Snkrzh

Limited designer shoes: Snkrzh store in Zurich.Image: screenshot instagram/snkrzh.ch

They spent months looking for a store until they found the perfect location. At that time it was still a private garage. “Before, it was even a stable for the Zurich transport company, where the horses that pulled the first trams were stabled,” says Spahiu. After gaining approval as a commercial space, a five-month renovation began.

4 questions for Cyrillo Rigamonti, professor of commercial law at the University of Bern

Mr. Rigamonti, is there a high probability that a start-up will win in court against an international corporation?
Cyrill Rigamonti: There is no general answer to this question. The deciding factor is who owns the earlier rights to the trademark and can successfully claim infringement. Whether it is a start-up or an international corporation, it doesn’t really matter. The ongoing objection process is also not particularly expensive, so the various financial options are of limited importance.
Is there a rule when a company name sounds too similar?
According to the Trademark Protection Act, what ultimately matters is whether there is a likelihood of confusion between the trademarks in question when comparing the marks and the goods or services marked by them. In the case of a (partial) takeover of an older (word) trademark, it is advisable to add a distinctive addition in order to eliminate a similar overall impression as much as possible. Adding a descriptive suffix such as “ZH” for “Zürich” is generally not enough to avoid the risk of confusion.
How does Nike get international recognition for such a small company?
Well-informed companies have their brands professionally monitored in all relevant markets. This is done either internally or through an external service that reports potential conflicts with newly registered trademarks.
What do you advise companies that want to register their trademark to consider in advance?
Before registering a trademark, it is usually advisable to conduct a professional trademark search, especially if you want to build a long-term business under the trademark in question. Browsing registries on the Internet can give you initial clues, but is no substitute for professional research.

“We would never have been able to do this business on our own,” says Salahi. The idea could only be realized with the help of family and friends who helped every day. In addition to this voluntary support, the two Zurichs also put more than 100,000 francs in their hands to make their dream come true. “We invested everything in the business,” says Salahi, a chartered accountant. Wanting to go all-in, they also decided to brand their name Snkrzh. That was in December 2021.

Snkrzh could damage the reputation of Nike

Six months later, on May 7 of this year, the time came: the Snkrzh store was opened in District 4. The calculation worked: After a short time, they sold enough shoes to cover the monthly expenses. “Most people come to our store, play the slot machines or throw a few basketball hoops at the object we built – and of course they also buy shoes,” says the happy young entrepreneur Salahi.

The two from Zürich also gave their best in terms of marketing. They’ve created videos about their sneaker store that have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on TikTok alone. Both young entrepreneurs were doing well.

It wasn’t until August 9 that a registered letter from a Zurich law firm changed everything – three days before the trademark registration deadline. In the letter, titled “Trademark Infringement,” the lawyers say they are representing their Oregon client, Nike Innovate.

SNKRZH Schuhladen in Zurich, Spahiu, Almaf Salahi, Kuvet

Running their Snkrzh shop since May: Almaf Spahiu (left) and Kuvet Salahi. Image: watson

The law firm points out that the brand of the young Zurich entrepreneur Snkrzh is “practically identical” and “the services directly overlap” with the Nike Snkrs brand. With the Snkrs app, the international footwear manufacturer offers a platform where customers are informed about exclusive Nike products and their launches. This proximity would “undoubtedly cause confusion”, the lawyers further argue. The Snkrzh brand is said to have the potential to “damage the reputation of Nike’s Snkrs brand”.

The letter threw friends from school in Zurich into a shocking euphoria. “First of all, we were happy that Nike noticed us,” says Spahiu, who describes himself as a big Nike fan. Only later did they realize how serious the situation was for their business. The group’s lawyers made clear demands on the small Swiss start-up.

The Snkrzh trademark is to be deleted and the entrepreneurs must give Nike a written assurance that they will never use the name again. “We have to change the signs on our facade, throw away various merchandise products such as T-shirts and also delete our viral TikTok videos where you can see Snkrzh,” Salahi explains soberly, adding: “Everything we have earned in the last few months has to be dedicated to change. ”

The new name is checked

An expensive thing that Zurich residents would like to avoid. But Nike did not respond to the counter-proposals. My lawyer friend was also unable to reach a compromise.

SNKRZH Schuhladen in Zurich, Spahiu, Almaf Salahi, Kuvet

Must go: Nike also wants the signs on the facade to be removed.Image: watson

Kuvet Salahi estimates that taking legal action against the international group would be too expensive. Their legal defense insurance wouldn’t cover the case because they filed for the trademark without their company last December. Both friends would thus have to bear the legal costs themselves. “We can invest the money better,” says Spahiu.

Now they have to do it to cover the cost of the modifications to some extent. “We are currently vetting the new name, this time with a lawyer,” explains Spahiu. A: “We don’t want to be in the same situation again.”

Friends don’t want to mess with Nike, as Salahi says: “It would be great to work with Nike and maybe one day become an exclusive partner in Switzerland.” It has always been her dream to be discovered by an international shoe manufacturer. But not the way it turned out.

A police dog caught three burglary suspects in Sachseln OW on Sunday evening. It is said that they had already tried to break into two family houses and break open the ticket machine.

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